Wisdom for Grads: Sage Kitchen Advice and a Giveaway

I was going to cross that stage, get my diploma, and give some official type person a big sweaty handshake.

I'll never forget my graduation. I was driving myself and running late for the ceremony. I had the AC running because it was June and hot and I hoped to arrive looking fresh and polished. However, my beat down Buick Skylark had different plans and began overheating about a block and a half from the venue. Just as I pulled into the parking lot, it died.

As you might imagine, the heat from the sun soon faded in comparison to the heat caused by the humiliation of getting out of my car and pushing it into a parking spot. My shoes were slick on the bottom, nobody wanted to help because they were all perfectly pressed, I had effectively backed up the traffic another 5 minutes, and I became increasingly aware of it all with each slippery step.

I thought I could die. I thought of leaving, but I didn't. I worked too hard to turn away. No matter what, I was going to cross that stage, get my diploma, and give some official type person a big sweaty handshake. You see, life throws you curveballs (a lot of them). It's up to you to determine how you deal with them.

This is nowhere more evident than in your career choices. I never thought that the culmination of all my work experience would land me at the job of my dreams. It took me a couple of decades to figure out what I really wanted to be when I grow up, and it looks nothing like it did in my twenties. 

Graduation is the gate to rest of your life. This week I am participating in a blog series with Sheaffer Pen called #WisdomForGrads to help graduates in their first steps to a promising future. I'm pleased to present my advice from a culinary perspective. If you are a recent graduate, congratulations. I hope this article will help guide you. If there is a little more distance between you and graduation day, I hope you will find new inspiration here and maybe even share some of your wisdom in the comments section.

To kick things off let's begin with...

Today's Nest Top 5 Most Common Kitchen Mistakes 

Holding the knife in the wrong place - unless you are Michael Myers, putting a death grip on the handle of the knife is rarely the right choice.  Instead, your forefinger and thumb should grip (pinch) the part of the knife (the heel) just in front of the handle (the scales). The other fingers should rest on the handle and just support the action carried out by your forefinger and thumb. By the way... dull knives are more dangerous than sharp knives. Always keep knives sharp.

Cutting board too small - a small cutting board may be fine for very small jobs, but generally speaking you need a bigger cutting board anytime you will be using a bigger knife, such as a chef's knife, which is most of the time. Overcrowding your board can keep you from moving freely and increases the chance for injury.

Not heating pan and oil up before cooking - never mind the crazy culinary science behind it, but know that the reason people's food sticks to the pan is generally because they failed to get the pan hot, the oil hot, or both. Always heat the pan up for a minute or two before adding the oil. Add the oil and let it heat through, as well, before adding your ingredients.

Not enough salt - salt is arguably the most important ingredient in any dish. It gets some negative publicity at times, but that is often misplaced. Too much salt in processed foods and 'convenience' foods could potentially cause problems, but the amount you will use to season your meals reasonably should be well within safe limits. In exchange, you get meals that sing. If you ever taste a dish and think 'something is just not quite right', the answer is almost invariably more salt.

Crowding the pan - food needs the opportunity to move around and more importantly have the heat move around it. Sauteing foods too closely together makes it impossible for the heat to get where it needs to go and causes moisture to build up in tight places which keeps the 'crisp' away. Likewise, the best cooked pasta comes from plenty of water and a pot big enough for the water to move freely around the pasta.


Food As Life

Food is life. As such, I find it easy to relate most things in life to kitchen lessons. Let's see if I can make a little more sense of it. 

Always read a recipe completely through before beginning. In other words, know what you're getting yourself into. Life (and many recipes) can be tricky with hidden ingredients and unexpected time frames. Give yourself a leg up with a little research before you leap. Impulsiveness is for gum purchases or spontaneous movie nights... not tattoos or marriage.

In the fight between quality vs. quantity, quality almost always wins... except for maybe cheese curls. Even at the poorest quality level, they seem to get the job done and if you've given in to eating cheese curls, 'more' is one of its best qualities. Otherwise, stick to the best quality you can afford and be rewarded with equal or better results. It applies to just about everything... clothes, car, travel accomodations, steak, seafood, and produce.

If possible, prepare your ingredients in advance. The French have a phrase for this, mise en place, which basically means establishment. This is the foundation for the dish or adventure ahead. By having your ingredients pre-measured and ready to go you can carry out your mission with ease. Likewise, planning in advance for the future is a key component to a successful life. Live life to its fullest today, but remember to plan ahead for the future. If your new job offers a 401K plan, for God's sake, put in at least as much as they will match. You'll be saving and they are going to give you free money.

Try new things... and periodically give things you didn't like before another shot. For years I wouldn't eat cilantro. I had it for the first time on a business trip very early in my career and thought it tasted like dish soap. I didn't eat it for another 8 or 9 years. When I finally tried it again I loved it. I don't know why, but not giving it another shot earlier cost me years of improved TexMex food. Food and life are to be enjoyed (in moderation). Taste everything. If you like it, do it again; if not, stop. Open your mind to the possibilities (food and otherwise) beyond your usual footprint. 

Use the right tools. Try whisking eggs into a meringue with a can opener. It simply won't work. Life is tricky enough with the right tools. Don't try to do it without them. Plus this... sometimes the right tools are people or connections. Don't be afraid to ask for help when you need it. Of all the characteristics you have built up until now, humility and vulnerability are possibly the most important (and most commonly undervalued).

Share! I saved this for last because my hope is that if you remember nothing else, you remember this. A great meal or brilliant idea or magical evening is meaningless if you don't share it with someone. Let your love show through your food, your actions, and your interactions. Surround yourself with people you love, people who make it easy for you to be the very best version of yourself. Don't make time for those who make you unhappy. Squeeze every last drop out of life and share it with the people you love.


And if that wasn't enough rambling, there's more... A GIVEAWAY!

The fine folks at Sheaffer Pen are sponsoring a giveaway of one of their lovely pens. The prize is this beautiful Sheaffer Sagaris Brushed Chrome Featuring Gold Tone Trim Rollerball valued at $60. Winning is easy. Simply leave a comment in the comment section below. Your comment MUST be about one of the tips shared above OR a tip of your own to share with recent graduates. The random drawing will be held on Friday, July 4 at 11:59pm CST.

Want to improve your odds? Tweet a link to this article and the tag #WisdomForGrads for an extra entry. Be sure to include us (@todaysnest) in your tweet. 

Be sure to get all the #WisdomForGrads this week. Check out the others on the schedule: